Clapham’s Beeswax Products Ltd. is an outgrowth of a 200 hive commercial beekeeping operation which we ran from our farm near Aldergrove in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia, Canada from 1972 until 1998.
We specialized in commercial raspberry pollination, and moved our hives into the mountains each summer for fireweed honey. We sold our honey at retail locations throughout the lower mainland, and at the Granville Island Public Market for 18 years.
In 1984 my Mother Veronica was visiting from England, and suggested that we might turn our surplus beeswax into Furniture Polish. That got me started with my first efforts at formulation work, and we launched our first product, “Clapham’s Beeswax Furniture Polish” at the Seattle Gift Show in July 1986, where we received 12 orders from stores in Washington and Oregon.
That marked the beginning of my life on the road, cold-call selling throughout the Pacific Northwest and California, with my VW Golf, and Liquor Store boxes of polish piled in the back. Interstate 5 is one of the great highways of the world. It runs from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. As it happens, our farm was situated 300 yards North of the border looking down into Washington State, and it is exactly 2,000 kms from there to Los Angeles. I drove it many times. I was at Koontz Hardware off Santa Monica Boulevard so often that the employees thought I lived there, and invited me to join their Wednesday evening basketball in La Cienega Park.
It is a time I look back on with great affection, and this is a grand opportunity to thank all the kind people who helped us on our way. I met with encouragement and support wherever I went. Thirty years later, we recognize Americans as honest, kind-spirited and appreciative people.
During that period I made many trips to LA which has become one of my favourite cities. Many times I slept on the sofa in a house at 6th and Crescent Heights in West Hollywood. My rent took the form of Tanqueray Gin which we kept in the freezer. I arrived there after the Loma Linda earthquake, and the chimney pot was lying on the lawn.
Honourable mentions also go to kind people in New York, Boston, Chicago, San Fransisco, Portland, Seattle and DC, where I spent time as a guest of the Smithsonian. It was on one of these trips that I stopped in to visit an elegant little store in Eureka, California, called “Restoration Hardware”, where I met Steven Gordon, who was just starting out with a major expansion. He gave me an order for 12 cans of beeswax polish, and paid with a cheque. I was pretty much penniless at the time, so I cashed it right away, and had money in my pocket. We had no credit cards in those days. We then rode along with the growth of Restoration Hardware, who also took our Beeswax Hand Cream. We once received such a big order that we had to rent a 3 Ton truck to ship it to Bellingham Wa.
I was returning home at the end of one trip, and fuelled up the VW with Gasoline instead of Diesel by mistake. The guy at the pump next door heard about it and said: “Don’t start the engine. Let’s push it over to the parking area”. So we did that, and he said, “Back in half an hour.” Half an hour later he returned with a wrench set, a plastic pail, a funnel, a couple of gas jugs, and some old bed sheet to lie on. Five minutes later the tank was empty, I re-fuelled with Diesel, and I was on my way home. He would accept no payment, but his fuel was free! We tend not hear about Americans like him, so I mention him now.
Special thanks go to the late Douglas Adams and his wife Dorothy of “Conservation Materials” in Sparks Nevada who were most supportive, and helped us to get started with museum conservators. And that lead us to Greenwich Connecticut, the homes of the rich and famous, and a feature in Architectural Digest. We have had a “confidential customer list” ever since.
Most Canadians live in the East, which is harder to access for a little start-up company out on the west coast, so it took longer to get established. But gradually word got out, especially from the famous “One of a Kind” Christmas Craft Show in Toronto, where we exhibited for 21 years, and became good friends with Toronto along the way.
For 28 of these 30 years we were a home-based business, and liked it that way.
Anne has always held home base as our Administrator, and Roger does R & D, Marketing and Sales, and general oversight.
But times move on, and so have we. We moved to Salt Spring Island where we are a bigger company and expanding. Most of our business over the years has been with other small businesses, many of them very small like ourselves. Such businesses are the foundation blocks of the economy in every nation on earth, and we welcome orders from individual people and “Mom and Pops”.
We had a phone-call recently, and the caller asked: “Do you sell to just anyone ?”
In 1994 we were invited by Japan External Trade (“JETRO”) to exhibit the polish in Tokyo, so I made my first visit 22 years ago. This August we launch our product line with full distribution across Japan, courtesy of our old friends at “SUN-K/Soleil”, a family-owned art supply company on the Ginza in Tokyo. We work hard when I’m there; then we head round the corner to Japan’s most famous Bavarian Pub, with an Accordion, Trumpet, Tuba and musical Cow Bells. It’s called “The Lion Beer Hall”, and it’s on YouTube. Hilarious.
Even further East, we have sold our Beeswax Hand Cream through “Richard Starkie and Associates” near Leicester in England for 15 years; we ship monthly from Vancouver to Birmingham. Richard and his wife sell retail at all the big fairs and shows in the UK, which reminds us of our own origins. It’s a rich mix of very hard work and interesting people.
What matters to us now is that we continue to work with good people and good companies, as we have always done. To us, business is an extension of life…
…People who live proper lives, run proper businesses, and enjoy themselves along the way.
Roger & Anne Clapham